An interesting 2009 paper by Ronaldo Vigo and Colin Allen has been released online, titled How to reason without words: inference as categorization (PDF format). The paper takes on the common idea that reasoning is a singularly human activity that relies on our language-based conception of inference. The alternative model of reasoning presented in the paper could apply to nonhuman animals as well as to robots. From the introduction:
We describe an alternative framework that is capable of providing a unified approach to reasoning and the subsymbolic perceptual processes underlying similarity assessment, discrimination, and categorization. The framework is provided by the modal similarity theory (MST) of Vigo (2008), which we describe in ‘‘Modal similarity theory’’.
The paper looks at similarities and differences between the reasoning abilities of animals such as dogs and young human children. It then attempt to build a plausible case for how inference could be accomplished without language. An experiment involving similarity assessment of iconic images is described. A connection is drawn between similarity assessment and boolean operators. Finally they propose that reasoning is based on more fundamental, non-linguistic processes that include discrimination, categorization, and similarity assessment.